SETI stops listening for alien signals

Radio telescope array shut down due to funding cuts

If E.T. has been trying to phone us since returning home, he can stop. After four years of scanning the skies for radio signals that might be evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, the Allen Telescope Array in California is shutting down, a victim of funding cuts.

InformationWeek reports that due to sharp funding cuts from the National Science Foundation and California, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute has shut down the 42-antenna array while it embarks on a more terrestrial search for other funding sources.

"2011 was expected to be a banner year for the group because recent space probe missions have revealed the locations of over 1,000 possible Earthlike planets — and with them, regions of space where the array could scan for signs of the civilizations we hope to find on planets like our own," wrote Annalee Newitz on, a website devoted to science and science fiction.

"There is a huge irony that [at] a time when we discover so many planets to look at, we don't have the operating funds to listen," Jill Tarter, director of the institute's Center for SETI Research, told the San Jose Mercury News.

SETI officials are hoping the Air Force might help, and they are also soliciting donations from the public. Tarter told the Mercury News that the institute needs about $5 million over the next two years to keep the program running.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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Reader comments

Mon, May 9, 2011 JW DC

Here is an idea--get properly vetted volunteers to assist with this project. Maybe even school-age children. Why does a bureaucrat have to sit and listen and scan, why can't this be a learning experience for the general public??

Mon, May 9, 2011

SETI is not basic research that leads to technology development that helps this country. It is just one of many government boondogles. If people want to support it, then have them give their own money to an outside organization that does this "research". Taxpayer money definately should not be used on waste of this kind.

Mon, May 9, 2011 DT2 Iowa

$5 million over the next two years comes to about 1.6 cents per U.S. taxpayer. Seems like a real bargain to me. The timing is awful. We now have many actual, known planets to target instead of scanning the entire sky at random.

Wed, May 4, 2011

If the funds for manned space exploration were put into space science and SETI, we would have a lot more scientific information. The space station is a prime example of money poorly spent. The Cassini probe is an example of a better use of funds.

Wed, May 4, 2011 Bill of Monmouth

Two point five million per year sounds like a lot. These radio telescopes should be running off a computer program. They don't need to be manned. Figure maybe $200k per year in maintenance/calibration and a team of scientists/engineers (say about 5-6) doing this as a part time activity, and you can reduce the cost significantly.

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